At a time when the European Union is struggling to act together to develop a coherent strategy to tackle its deepening financial problems, the EU Commission has published a recent Communication designed to enhance closer unity in the energy security arena and forge a coherent “single voice” approach in the energy sector when dealing with international partners.
This Communication is an important attempt to bring together strands of the EU’s internal energy policy and common foreign and security policy – both areas, which historically, have been a source of discord among Member States.
The shift towards closer unity in the energy sector has made considerable progress in recent years. For almost half a century there existed a fundamental contradiction at the heart of energy policy in the EU. While the founding European Community was premised on the basic assumption that cooperation in the energy sector would enhance the level of interdependence and reduce the capacity for each Member State to wage war against another, the European founding Treaties failed to provide a robust framework to facilitate the development of a common energy policy. This failure to develop a common framework at the EU level meant that energy policy remained the preserve of nation-states in the community.
Over the last number of years, however, energy policy in EU has shifted from an almost entirely national matter within the Union to a supranational policy initiative. And today EU energy policy is based on an array of mechanisms and measures that aim to address the issues of energy security, climate change and economic competitiveness for the EU as a whole. The energy related provisions in the Lisbon Treaty has been central to this shift.
The recent Communication entitled: The EU Energy Policy: Engaging with Partners beyond Our Borders, is a recognition that the EU is over reliant on imported energy sources (60% of EU gas needs and over 80% of EU oil needs) and this is only predicted to get worse. To compete effectively in a global energy market it makes sense for the EU to consolidate its large internal energy market and act as a single block when negotiating energy import deals with third party countries. While the ability to “speak with one voice” will require enhanced coordination among EU member states, a clear and coherent strategy for relations with producing, transit and consumer countries is prerequisite to promote the EU’s energy interests abroad. This Communication is an important step in this regard and places the EU Commission at the centre of an emerging framework for EU foreign energy relations.
There is little doubt that this internal and external harmonisation process complements the efforts already underway in the EU renewable and energy efficiency space. It is widely acknowledged that two of the most effectively methods to reduce EU energy imports, increase security of supply, reduce carbon emissions and enhance cost competitiveness, is through the large-scale deployment of renewable generation and the adoption of energy efficiency measures. Through the adoption of the EU Climate Change and Third Energy Packages, the EU Commission has already consolidated its position at the heart of future renewable energy strategies across the Union; this recent Communication is an attempt to resolve the historical conflict between efforts by the Commission to create a common EU position on fossil fuel imports and the sovereign member states who traditionally consider energy security as too important to leave to others.